South Africa: United community of Fuleni successfully blocks another potential coal mining operation in the area

02 June 2022

Hell has no fury like the Fuleni community members who are opposing coal mines. On 15th May 2022, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO) again sent packing another mining company, Imvukuzane (Pty) Ltd, during a community meeting in Ocilwane, one of the six villages in Fuleni.

Imvukuzane had come to give a presentation about their project to the Fuleni community and traditional council, and to apologise for having displayed mining notices in the Fuleni villages in April 2022 – without first having obtained permission from the local leadership. The notices instilled fear but also infuriated community members, who suspected that the mine was being disrespectful to local people. Imvukuzane was aiming to apologise to each village and each of the indunas.

On 5 May 2022, MCEJO activists, together with groundWork, had approached the traditional council from Fuleni and had spoken with indunas from three of the five villages, (indunas from the remaining two villages were not available), to enquire if there had been any communication and agreement between the mine and the traditional councils, regarding the display of the notices. The traditional council confirmed that they had not been consulted by the mine about the placement of its notices. However, this consultation with the traditional council was nothing more than a strategic move by MCEJO and groundWork, to gather information in preparation for the community meeting in Fuleni, scheduled for 15th May 2022.

Prior to the community meeting, MCEJO activists and groundWork had strategised about the approach by the community, to the meeting with Imvukuzane mine. The agreed approach was that the mine should be told to pack and go.

On Sunday 15th May 2022, representatives of the mine arrived at a well-attended gathering, with approximately 200 community people present. The mine had intended to give a presentation and to apologise for having shown disrespect to the community. But their apology was met with a strong wave of rejection from the community and a clear message ordering the mine to pack and leave. The community was very clear that it did not accept the mine’s apology, that it did not want any mine in the area, and that the mine must pack and go and never come back – the community did not want to see the mine representatives ever again.

The approach was planned to be communicated with the other five (5) villages, as the mine was still going to apologize to those villages as well.

A week later, on Sunday 22 May 2022, representatives of Imvukuzane went to the next village, Ntuthunga-1, to apologise. Again, they were told to pack and go and never come back. “We don’t want coal mines in our community as it would destroy our lifestyle, livelihoods, farms and grazing land. We have seen this kind of destruction in other areas where coal mines operate and we cannot allow that to happen here”, said Phila Nzimande.

These rejections were a repeat of the determined push back in 2015 by MCEJO, against the Ibutho open cast coal mine which had been proposed at the time. An organised, well-attended and angry community of more than a thousand Fuleni residents forced the Regional Mining Development Environmental Committee (RMDEC) to abort its site visit to Fuleni. The RMDEC had planned that the mine would be located on the boundary of the iMfolozi wilderness area, and wanted to familiarise the Committee with the terrain, and expected to hear submissions from Interested and Affected Parties (I&Aps) and their lawyers, to substantiate their comments and objections to mining in the area.

As things turned out, in the early hours of Sunday 17 May 2015, irate Fuleni residents blocked the main road to Ocilwane with rocks and burning tyres, creating a barricade that prevented vehicles entering Fuleni. Ocilwane is the village that will be most affected by the proposed Ibutho Coal mine, around which deliberations continue to simmer. In 2015, the police eventually managed to enlist assistance from protest convenor, Phila Ndimande, when he arrived at the scene on route to the demonstration he had organised in Ocilwane.

Seven years later, in May 2022, the Fuleni community continues to demonstrate that unity is key in the struggle against coal mining.

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